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BOOK REVIEW

Familiar faces resurface in 'The Narrows?

The Narrows, By Michael Connelly, Little, Brown, 405 pp., $25.95

Michael Connelly is back with a new mystery that is as self-referential as it is readable. "The Narrows'' reprises characters of an earlier book, "The Poet,'' and reminds us repeatedly that another one, "Blood Work,'' was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood.

By all rights, this combo should drive us nuts. It doesn't. The plotting is simply too good. Neither, though, is this primo Connelly, and he should be wary of continuing this practice of revisiting tales. John le Carre pulled it off in "Smiley's People,'' but however good Connelly is, he is no le Carre.

What we have instead is an OK effort that holds the reader to its melodramatic end and that, in the process, all but guarantees the return of Connelly's protagonist, the squirrelly Harry Bosch, to the Los Angeles Police Department in future efforts. (The obsessive Bosch has been retired from the force for a couple of years and - surprise - hasn't a clue what to do with his life.)

The nits to pick here are fairly small, and it remains a pleasure to start a new Connelly offering, which routinely makes you forget to brush your teeth before bed. But it's time for him to unload something outrageously good again.

The book opens in fine fashion with an unassailable fact. "I think maybe I only know one thing in this world,'' Bosch says. "One thing for sure. And that is that the truth does not set you free.''

Spoken like a cop. The title, by the way, refers figuratively to life's dark recesses and literally to the part of the Los Angeles River that shrinks to a dangerous gauge. The story begins - and I'm not giving away secrets here - with the suspicion by the widow of Terry McCaleb, a retired FBI profiler of serial killers in earlier books, that her husband had been murdered, not stricken by a heart attack, on his charter fishing boat with a client aboard, as had been assumed. (Eastwood played the McCaleb character in the so-so "Blood Work'' film.)

She approaches Bosch, who had worked cases with McCaleb, to look into the case. He does.

Separately, we learn that Robert Backus is alive. Backus was the veteran FBI agent who turned out to be a serial killer in "The Poet,'' one of Connelly's best books. Thought shot dead by FBI agent Rachel Walling, Backus returns in "The Narrows'' to haunt Walling and emerges as the prime suspect in McCaleb's murder. Bosch follows his tracks, locking horns with the FBI and growing close to Walling in the process. You're on your own for the rest of it.

Bosch has a young child now by ex-wife and former FBI agent Eleanor Wish, now a professional poker player in Las Vegas. (What is it with Bosch and FBI women anyway?) We learned of this situation at the end of Connelly's last book. The word "overwrought'' comes to mind here. Bosch agonizes over the demands of fatherhood and his addiction to homicide investigations. His relationship with Wish is testy and predictable, but then relationships have never been Connelly's strong suit.

During this tale, a former partner of Bosch on the force, now a ranking admininstrator in the LAPD, offers him the chance to return to active duty. There are simply too many cold cases to solve, and the department is looking for quality veterans to for go the AARP conventions and get dirty again. Bosch hesitates, but his intentions are clear.

That Connelly is steering his bloodhound back to the LAPD signals that the author is more comfortable with the richer plotting options there. No complaints here. Retirement is rarely what it's cracked up to be.

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